NORTH WALES CRUSADERS will play a reduced format of League One games in the 2019 season.

Rugby league's third tier schedule will be condensed after Hemel Stags announced their withdrawal, with just 11 professional sides now remaining in the division.

The Stags, who were founded as an amateur club in 1981, finished next to bottom of League 1 in 2018 after winning just two of their 26 matches and say they want to concentrate on developing their community programme.

Their withdrawal is a further setback to rugby league's hopes of gaining a national identity.

Hemel joined League 1 in 2013 alongside Oxford and the University of Gloucestershire but all three have now disappeared from the set-up.

The Stags say they may return for 2020 and, in the meantime, are one of 14 clubs to submit an expression of interest in joining the new tier-four Southern Conference to be launched next spring.

Bob Brown, the club's founder and chairman, said: "Following discussions between the RFL and Hemel Stags, it has been agreed by both parties that the club will not take part in the 2019 League One season.

"A return to League One is planned for 2020. In 2019, Hemel Stags will concentrate on developing its community programme with a special emphasis on post-16 years community rugby league."

Hemel's withdrawal, allied to an expansion of the second-tier Championship from 12 to 14 clubs which meant that no side was relegated, leaves League One as an 11-team competition.